You risk being tiresome by starting with a quote from E.B. White. But here goes:
“There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter — the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something ,,, Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.”
I had been thinking about how we’re all not just passionate settlers here, or other places, but maybe in fact we’re displaced persons.
A college friend’s ashes were scattered on the Potomac River in DC over the weekend. He was born in steel mill tough Youngstown, Ohio; that’s where he got his accent and most of his stories with which he regaled the Georgetown set. I’m sure he never became a Redskin fan.
The Times’ saintly fashion photographer Bill Cunningham, so long associated with New York couture and culture, I see in his obituary grew up in Irish Boston. Was he searching his radio for WBZ at night?
My youngest daughter, a native Clevelander living now in the shadow of the Tetons in Wyoming, texted me that she got teary when the Cavs won last week. My other two Cleveland-born daughters rooted from here.
The guys who started the New Yorker and New York magazine were from the Midwest and further west than that.
My wonderful young waiter every Sunday morning is from Moldova. His boss the owner is from County Meath in Ireland. The owner leaves early on Sunday mornings to get back to his apartment to watch gaelic football from home on TV.
A Chinese couple lives across the hall from me. A Puerto Rican couple next to them. Both couples have little dogs that bark in a shrill way every time their doors open. I holler through my wall at them like Jack Nicholson might. The Asian guy owns a restaurant, the wife works in fashion I assume; she gets Women’s Wear Daily delivered to her door. The Puerto Rican guy is the super and is writing a book on a musician named Joe Cuba. Their accents seem second nature to me now. They both go to markets where they can get food from home.
I talk about Lionel Messi with a young maintenance guy in my building from Peru. He could talk about him all day. The head of maintenance is from Albania. He’s funny like a guy born in Brooklyn. They’ve both been intently following the current soccer tournaments on TV to see how their home teams fared.
You see Minnesota Twins hats here sometimes. Some folks have on Steelers shirts on a Sunday. There’s a bar on Second Avenue that caters to Northern California sports teams. Logos on the front of the place for the 49ers and Giants and Warriors. Sharks. Cal Bears. University of Michigan shirts dominate. On football Saturdays here, you’d think you were near Ann Arbor.
When I moved here I learned that there was a bar on the Upper West Side that was a Browns bar.
Joe Namath was Broadway Joe; he owned the city. He was from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania and his accent never left him.
White goes on to say:
“And whether it is a farmer arriving from Italy to set up a small grocery store in a slum, or a young girl arriving from a small town in Mississippi to escape the indignity of being observed by her neighbors, or a boy arriving from the Corn Belt with a manuscript in his suitcase and a pain in his heart, it makes no difference: each embraces New York with the intense excitement of first love, each absorbs New York with the fresh eyes of an adventurer, each generates heat and light to dwarf the Consolidated Edison Company.”
The Times had a big piece last week about New Yorkers who’ve moved back here.
A young man from Northern Ireland ran the computer department in a branch library here. At the time, email was just coming into popularity. I didn’t have it yet. He told me how much it had already done for him. He said he used to talk to his brother who lived in Italy a couple times a year on the phone. Now they emailed each other every day.
New York’s a good place to live if you’re from somewhere else. So many people here are from somewhere else too. You might feel alone, but you don’t feel alone in feeling alone.